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Thousands still without power

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Hagadone News Network | January 15, 2021 1:00 AM

Some Kootenai County neighborhoods that lost power as a result of Wednesday’s historic windstorm could remain dark well into the weekend.

Avista and Kootenai Electric crews that mobilized Wednesday morning to restore power lines and help clear fallen trees were still at it Thursday, replacing downed wires as they bounced from neighborhood to neighborhood.

As of Thursday evening, more than 8,600 Avista customers remained without power in the Coeur d’Alene area. In a rough timeline issued to customers, Avista said some Coeur d’Alene customers could be without power reaching late into Saturday evening.

In Bonner County, roughly 450 people remain without power, with the biggest number — about 357 — in an area north of Blanchard. Most are expected to get their power back by 3 p.m. Friday, according to Avista.

The energy company also is looking to restore power across the Silver Valley, with over 1,000 still without electricity from Cataldo to Mullan. On the bright side, some Silver Valley residents who were told Thursday morning to expect to remain powerless until Saturday have already seen their lights come back on.

Still, Avista has its hands full, not only in North Idaho but in its Spokane service area.

“Assessment and restoration efforts continue in the light of day Thursday, as additional damage and outage incidents continue to be uncovered," said Lena Funston, Avista spokesperson. "At the peak of the storm, the windstorm matched the speeds of the historic 2015 storm, and approximately 70,000 Avista electric customers were without power.”

That number dropped to just over 45,000 regionwide on Thursday, with 1,600 individual outages reported.

Funston said the electrical system — including both transmission lines and distribution systems — have to be assessed before repair work can begin. While observing downed trees that took out power poles is a usually easy fix in, say, downtown Coeur d’Alene, some power systems can be harder to assess.

“The storm caused damage to both the transmission and distribution systems, with the primary damage involving trees coming into contact with lines and bringing wires down,” she said. “Crews continue to navigate downed trees and debris in the midst of the restoration efforts, as well as rugged terrain in some areas, adding complexity in assessing the full extent of the damage. The continuing assessments and repairs will be time-consuming.”

Kootenai Electric has targeted specific areas in its restoration efforts, sending crews around 15th Street in Coeur d’Alene, the south side of the Spokane River in Post Falls, the north end of Hayden Lake, Harrison and Spirit Lake, among other regions of focus.

Residents looking to get real-time updates from Kootenai Electric’s outage map, however, might be disappointed: Technical difficulties have prevented the co-op from updating outage reports and restoration progress.

Crews from both companies have been working since before dawn on Wednesday, when gusts as high as 70 mph were reported in one of the fiercest windstorms in recent memory.

A Post Falls resident was killed Wednesday morning after a tree fell into his truck near Beauty Bay, forcing the vehicle off the road and down an embankment.

Trees collapsed onto homes, crushed cars and blocked streets, some of which remained blocked as of Thursday evening.

“In addition, we also have a crew responding to emergency [and] hazard areas,” said Erika Neff, Kootenai Electric spokesperson. “We will continue to call in mutual aid and contract crews to help us restore power as quickly and safely as possible. We would like members to be prepared for multiple day restoration efforts. We are not able to provide restoration estimates at this time.”